Gunyungara signs Township Lease

Date: Apr 4, 2018

Subject: Land Rights

The community of Gunyangara in north east Arnhem Land celebrated the signing of a 99-year township lease to the Ngarrariyal Aboriginal Corporation on 18 November 2017, 10 years after the Gumatj people, led by Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu, put forward a similar proposal to then Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough.

NLC Chairman Sam Bush-Blanasi said the lease “marks a new direction under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.”

“At the Northern Land Council, we didn’t like the way the Land Rights Act was first changed to allow for township leasing. That’s because the lease was held by a Commonwealth officer, the Executive Director of Township Leasing,” Mr Bush-Blanasi said. 

“Under that law, it was the EDTL who held the head lease over a community, and in the end it was the EDTL who would get to have the say over who got to use the land within the community. At the NLC we opposed that model of leasing, because we didn’t like the way it could take the power away from Traditional Owners. 

“Our opposition to the EDTL put a fair bit of stress on our relationship with (Indigenous Affairs) Minister Nigel Scullion. But, he listened to us, and he was prepared to change his mind. He listened to us and he changed his policy. I want to pay a tribute to Nigel for doing that.

“And, might I say, the relationship between Nigel and the NLC is on a much better footing these days. I’d go so far to say that the relationship is positive and constructive, and that’s a good thing for Aboriginal people in the NLC region.

“What Nigel came up with was a new model for township leasing, which put the EDTL on the sideline. The new model allows the township lease to be held by an Indigenous controlled entity. So, Aboriginal people themselves will be in control of their own destiny. 

“Aboriginal people at Gunyangara will be making the decisions about who gets to sub-lease land and how the community is developed,” Mr Bush-Blanasi said.

Senator Scullion said the lease would enable the Gumatj people to leverage their land assets for economic and community benefit.

“This lease is the first of its kind to be handed over to an Aboriginal community organisation. "The community entity model was developed at the request of Traditional Owners. The Gunyangara lease provides the first example of how a local Aboriginal corporation can hold and administer a township lease,” he said.

As a result of the township lease the Coalition Government has contributed $2.5 million under the Economic Development Fund to support subdivision and employee housing in Gunyangara, in addition to a $5.3 million employee housing project.

This article was published in Land Rights News Northern Edition February 2018